CH. III -- Gil Blas is dismissed by Don Bernard de Castil Blazo, and enters into the service of a beau.
As we were coming out of the tavern, and taking our leave, my master was passing along the street. He saw me, and I observed him look more than once at the captain. I had no doubt but he was surprised at meeting me in such company. It is certain that Rolando's physiognomy and air were not much in favour of moral qualities. He was a gigantic fellow, with a long face, a parrot's beak, and a very rascally contour, without being absolutely ugly.
I was not mistaken in my guess. In the evening I found Don Bernard harping on the captain's figure, and charmingly disposed to believe all the fine things I could have said of him, if my tongue had not been tied. Gil Blas, said he, who is that great shark I saw with you awhile ago? I told him it was an alguazil, and thought to have got off with that answer, but he returned to the charge; and observing my confusion, from the remembrance of the threats used by Rolando, broke off the conversation abruptly and went to bed. The next morning, when I had performed my ordinary duties, he counted me over six ducats instead of six rials, and said -- Here, my friend, this is what I give you for your services up to this day. Go and look out for another place. A servant keeping such high company is too much for me. I bethought myself of saying, in my own defence, that I had known that alguazil, by having prescribed for him at Valladolid, while I was practising medicine. Very good, replied my master, the shift is ingenious enough; you might have thought of it last night, and not have looked so foolish. Sir, rejoined I, in good truth prudence kept me silent, and gave to my reserve the aspect of guilt. Undoubtedly, resumed he, tapping me softly on the shoulder, it was carrying prudence very far, even to the confines of cunning. Go, lad, I have no further occasion for your services.
I went immediately to acquaint Melendez with the bad news, who told me, for my comfort, that he would engage to procure me a better berth. Indeed, some days after, he said -- Gil Blas, my friend, you have no notion of the good luck in store for you. You will have the most agreeable post in the world. I am going to settle you with Don Matthias de Silva. He is a man of the first fashion, one of those young noblemen commonly distinguished by the appellation of beaus. I have the honour of his custom. He takes up goods of me, on tick, indeed, but these great men are good pay in the long run, they often marry rich heiresses, and then old scores are wiped off; or, should that fail, a tradesman who understands his business puts such a price upon his articles, that if three-fourths of his debts are bad, he is no loser. Don Matthias's steward is my intimate friend. Let us go and look for him. It will be for him to present you to his master, and you may rely upon it, that for my sake he will treat you with high consideration.
As we were on our way to Don Matthias's house, this honest shopkeeper said -- It is fit, methinks, that you should be let into the steward's character. His name is Gregorio Rodriguez. Between ourselves, he is a man of low birth, with a talent for intrigue, in which vocation he has laboured till a stewardship in two distressed families completed their ruin, and made his fortune. I give you notice, that his vanity is excessive; he loves to see the under-servants creeping and crawling at his feet. It is with him they must make interest if they have any favour to beg of their master, for should they happen to obtain it without his interference, he has always some shift or other at hand to get the boon revoked, or at least render it of no avail. Regulate your conduct on this hint, Gil Blas; pay court to Signor Rodriguez in preference to your master himself, and leave no stone unturned to get into his good graces. His friendship will be of material service to you. He will pay your wages to the day; and, if you have management enough to worm yourself into his confidence, you may chance to pick up some of the fragments which fall from his table. There are enough for an hungrier dog than you! Don Matthias is a young nobleman, with no thought to throw away but on his pleasures, nor the slightest suspicion how his own affairs are going on. What a house for a steward who knows how to be a steward!
When we got to our journey's end, we asked to speak with Signor Rodriguez. We were told that we should find him in his own apartment. There he was, sure enough, and with him a clownish sort of fellow holding a blue bag, full of money. The steward, looking more wan and yellow than a girl in a hurry for a husband, ran up to Melendez with open arms; the draper was not behindhand with him, and they each hugged the other with a shew of friendship, at least as much indebted to art as nature for its plausible effect. After this, the next question was about me. Rodriguez examined me from top to toe; saying very civilly at the same time that I was just such an one as Don Matthias wanted, and that he would with pleasure take upon himself to present me to that nobleman. Thereupon Melendez gave him to understand how deeply he was interested in my behalf; he begged the steward to take me under his protection, and leaving me with him, after plenty of compliments, withdrew. As soon as he was gone out, Rodriguez said, I will introduce you to my master the moment I have dispatched this honest husbandman. He called the country man to him forthwith, and taking his bag, Talego, said he, let us see if the five hundred pistoles are all right. He counted over the money himself. As the sum was found to be exact, the countryman took a receipt and went away. The cash was put back again into the bag. It was my turn next to be attended to. We may now, said my new patron, go to my master's levee. He usually gets up about noon, it is now near one o'clock, and must be daylight in his apartment.
Don Matthias had indeed just risen. He was still in his morning gown, kicking his heels in a great chair, with a leg tossed over one of the elbows, swinging backwards and forwards, and manufacturing his own snuff. His conversation was addressed to a footman in waiting, who officiated as a temporary valet-de-chambre. My lord, said the steward, here is a young man whom I take the liberty of presenting to your lordship in the place of him you discharged the day before yesterday. Your draper, Melendez, has given him a character; he undertakes for his qualifications, and I believe you will be very well pleased with him. That is enough, answered the young nobleman, since he has your recommendation, I adopt him blindfold into my retinue. He is my valet-de-chambre at once; that business is settled. Let us talk of other matters, Rodriguez, you are come just in time, I was going to send for you. I have a budget of bad news, my dear Rodriguez. I played with ill luck last night, an hundred pistoles in my pocket lost, and two hundred more on credit. You know how indispensable it is for persons of high rank to pay their debts of honour. As for any other, it is no matter when they are paid. Punctuality is all very well between one tradesman and another, but they cannot expect it from one of us. These two hundred pistoles must be raised forthwith and sent to the Countess de Pedrosa. Sir, quoth the steward, that is sooner said than done. Where, prythee, am I to get such a sum? Threaten as I will, I never touch a maravedi from your tenants. And yet your establishment is to be kept up in style, and I am wearing myself to a thread in furnishing the ways and means. It is true that hitherto, heaven be praised, we have rubbed on, but what witch to conjure for a wind, now, I know not, the case is desperate. All this prosing is extremely impertinent, interrupted Don Matthias; this countinghouse talk makes me hideously nervous. So then, Rodriguez, you really think to undertake my reform, and metamorphose me into a plodding manager of my own estates? A very elegant sort of pastime for a man in my station of life; a man of rank and fashion! Grant me patience, replied the steward; at the rate we are driving now, it is easily calculated how soon you will be released from all those cares. You are a very great bore, resumed the young nobleman rather peevishly, this brutal importunity is downright murder to one's feelings. I hate loud music, be so good as to let me be ruined pianissimo. I tell you I want two hundred pistoles, and I must have them. Why, then, said Rodriguez, we must have recourse to the old rascal who has lent you so much already on usurious terms. Have recourse to the devil, if he will do you any good, answered Don Matthias; only let me have two hundred pistoles, and it is the same thing to me how you manage to get them.
While he was uttering these words in a hasty and fretful tone, the steward went out; and Don Antonio Centellés, a young man of quality, came in. What is the matter, my friend? said this last to my master: your atmosphere is overcast; I trace passion in the lines of your countenance. Who can have ruffled that sweet temper? I would lay a wager, it was that booby just gone out. Yes, answered Don Matthias, he is my steward. Every time he comes to speak to me, I am in an agony for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes. He rings the changes on the state of my affairs; and tells me that I am spending principal and interest A beast! He will say next, that I have ruined him into the bargain! My dear fellow, replied Don Antonio, I am exactly in the same situation. My man of business is just such another scarecrow as your steward. When the sneaking scoundrel, after repeated demands, brings me some niggardly supply, it is just as if he was lending me his own. He expostulates most barbarously. Sir, says he, you are going to rack and ruin; there is an execution out against you. I am obliged to cut him short, and beg him to remonstrate in epitome. The worst of it is, said Don Matthias, that there is no doing without these fellows; they are the penance attached to our elegant indiscretions. Just so, replied Centellés. But listen, pursued he, bursting into a fit of laughter; a pleasant idea has just struck me. Nothing was ever more farcically fancied. We may introduce a buffo caricato into our serious opera, and relieve the knell of our departed goods and chattels with an humorous divertissement. The plot is thus: let me try to borrow from your steward whatever you want. You shall do the same with my man of business. Then let them both preach as they please; we shall hearken with the utmost composure. Your steward will come and open his case to me; my man of business will plead the poverty of the land to you. I shall hear of nothing but your extravagance; and you will see your own in mine as in a glass. It will be vastly entertaining.
A thousand brilliant conceits followed this flight of genius, and put the young patricians into high spirits, so that they kept up the ball with vivacity, if not with wit. Their conversation was interrupted by Gregorio Rodriguez, who brought back with him a little old man with a bald head. Don Antonio was for moving off. Farewell, Don Matthias, said he, we shall meet again anon. I leave you with these gentlemen; you have, doubtless, some state affairs to discuss in council. Oh! no, no, answered my master, you had better stop; you will not interrupt us. This warm old gentleman has the moderation to lend me money at twenty per cent. What! at twenty per cent! exclaimed Centellés in a tone of astonishment. In good truth! I wish you joy on being in such hands. I do not come off so cheaply, for my part: I pay through the nose for every farthing I get. My loans are generally raised at double that per cent. There is usury! said the father of the usurious tribe; unconscionable dogs! Where do they expect to go when they die? I do not wonder there is so strong a prejudice against money-lenders. It is the exorbitant profit which some of them derive from their discounts, that brings reproach and ill-will upon us all. If all my brethren of the blue balls were like me, we should not be treated so scurvily; for my part, I only lend to do my duty towards my neighbour. Ah! if times were as good now as in my early days, my purse should be at your service as a friend; and even now, in the present distress of the money-market, it goes against the grain to take a poor twenty per cent. But one would think the money was all gone back to the mines whence it came: there is no such thing to be had, and the scarcity compels me to depart a little from the disinterested severity of my benevolence. How much do you want? pursued he, addressing my master. Two hundred pistoles, answered Don Matthias. I have four hundred here in a bag, replied the usurer; it is only to give you half of them. At the same time he drew from underneath his cloak a blue bag, looking just like that in which farmer Talego had left five hundred pistoles with Rodriguez. I was not long in forming my judgment of the matter, and saw plainly that Melendez had not bragged without reason of the steward's aptness in the ways of the world. The old man emptied the bag, displayed the cash on a table, and set about counting it. The sight set all my master's extravagant passions in a flame; the sum total proved very striking to his comprehension. Signor Descomulgado, said he to the usurer, I have just made a very sensible reflection: I am a great fool. I only borrow enough to redeem my credit, without thinking of my empty pockets. I should be obliged to give you the trouble of coming again to-morrow. I think, therefore, it will be best to spare your age and infirmities, and ease you of the four hundred at once. My lord, answered the old man, I had destined half of this money to a good licentiate, who lays out the income of his large preferments in those pious and charitable uses for which they were originally given to the clergy, as stewards of the poor, and guides to the young and unwary. In pursuance of this end, it is his great delight to wean young girls from the seductions of a wicked world, and place them in a snug well-furnished little box of his own, where they may be obnoxious to his ghostly admonitions by day and by night. But, since you have occasion for the whole sum, it is at your disposal. Some thing by way of security . . . . Oh! as for security, interrupted Rodriguez, taking a paper out of his pocket, you shall have as good as the bank. Here is a note which Signor Don Matthias has only just to sign. He makes over five hundred pistoles, due from one of his tenants, Talego, a wealthy yeoman of Mondejar. That is enough, replied the usurer, I never split hairs, but deal upon the square. The steward insinuated a pen between his master's fingers, who signed his name at the bottom of the note, without reading it; and whistled as he signed, for want of thought.
That business settled, the old man took his leave of my noble employer, who shook him cordially by the hand, saying: Till I have. the pleasure of seeing you again, good master pounds, shillings, and pence, I am your most devoted humble servant. I do not know why you should all be lumped together for a set of blood-suckers; you seem to me a necessary link in the chain of well-ordered society. You are as good as a physician to us pecuniary invalids of quality, and keep us alive by artificial restoratives in the last stage of a consumptive purse. You are in the right, exclaimed Centellés. Usurers are a very gentlemanly order in society, and I must not be denied the privilege of paying my compliments to this illustrious specimen, for the sake of his twenty per cent. With this banter, he came up and threw his arms about the old man's neck: and these two overgrown children, for their amusement, began sending him backward. and forward between them like a shuttlecock. After they had tossed him about from pillar to post, they suffered him to depart with the steward, who ought to have come in for his share of the game, and for something a little more serious.
When Rodriguez and his stalking-horse had left the room, Don Matthias sent, by the lacquey in waiting, half his pistoles to the Countess de Pedrosa, and deposited the other half in a long purse worked with gold and silk, which he usually wore in his pocket. Very well pleased to find himself in cash, he said to Don Antonio, with an air of gaiety: What shall we do with ourselves to-day? Let us call a council. That is talking like a statesman, answered Centellés: I am your man: let us ponder gravely. While they were collecting their deliberative wisdom on the course they were to pursue for the day, two other noblemen came in; Don Alexo Segiar and Don Ferdinand de Gamboa; both nearly about my master's age, that is, from eight and twenty to thirty. These four jolly blades began with such hearty salutations, as if they had not met for these ten years. After that, Don Ferdinand, a professed bacchanalian, made his proposals to Don Matthias and Don Antonio: Gentlemen, said he, where do you dine to-day? If you are not engaged, I will take you to a tavern, where you shall quaff celestial liquor. I supped there last night, and did not come away till between five and six this morning. Would to heaven, exclaimed my master, I had done the same! I should not have lost my money.
For my part, said Centellés, I treated myself yesterday evening with a new amusement; for variety has always its charms for me. Nothing but a change of pleasures can make the dull round of human life supportable. One of my friends introduced me neck and heels to one of those gentry ycleped tax-gatherers, who do the government business and their own at the same time. There was no want of magnificence, good taste, or a well-designed set out table! but I found in the family itself an highly seasoned relish of absurdity. The farmer of the revenues, though the most meanly extracted of the whole party, must set up for a great man; and his wife, though hideously ugly, was a goddess in her own estimation, and made a thousand silly speeches, the zest of which was heightened by a Biscayan accent. Add to this, that there were four or five children with their tutor at table. Judge if it must not have been an amusing family party.
As for me, gentlemen, said Don Alexo Segiar, I supped with Arsenia the actress. We were six at table: Arsenia, Florimonde, a coquette of her acquaintance, the Marquis de Zenette, Don Juan de Moncade, and your humble servant. We passed the night in drinking and talking bawdy. What a flow of soul! To be sure, Arsenia and Florimonde are not strong in their upper works; but then they have a facility in their vocation which is more than all the wit in the world. They are the dearest madcaps, gay, romping, and rampant: they are an hundred times better than your modest women of sense and discretion.